Clouds over Afghanistan as U.S prepares fateful Sept. 11 pullout

Special to

By John J. Metzler

Dark clouds are shadowing Afghanistan as the final pullout of American forces from the beleaguered war-torn country continues, and the future darkens with the likely approach of a militant Taliban regime.

Time is running out to “prevent a worst case scenario” as Deborah Lyons, the UN’s Special Representative told a Security Council briefing in which she warned that the “possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable.”

Observers are “alarmed at the lack of political unity” in the country which somehow must be addressed or risk contributing to further Taliban territorial advances.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan / Video image

Representative Lyons stressed that through its intensified military campaign, the Taliban has captured more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 370 districts since the start of May. She added, “Most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.”

Ms. Lyons added that “increased and prolonged violence” threatened to destroy much of what has been built and hard won over the past twenty years. Yes, that twenty years has been a tough and harrowing time.  And now for naught?

Schools, hospitals and improved opportunities for women could be threatened by the Taliban’s religious and social intolerance.

Prior to 2001, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban ruled Afghanistan; the regime offered safe haven for the Al Qaida and Bin Laden terrorist networks which attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.   Shortly thereafter American forces toppled the Taliban regime, but U.S. and NATO forces had maintained a sizable and costly troop commitment ever since.

Sadly, Afghanistan was at war before the U.S. entered the conflict and shall likely remain so after we leave, possibly descending into a wrenching civil conflict.

Recently President Joe Biden met with Afghan leader Ghani in Washington, “Our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending,” Biden said.

Biden sought to reassure the Afghan leader with $266 million in humanitarian assistance and $3.3 billion in security aid. This is all part of a depressing droning by Washington to dump more dollars into the Afghan money pit with the hope of a better outcome.

But despite official Washington’s wistful political platitudes about holding firm and supporting Afghanistan after the troop pullouts, the fact remains that the psychological pendulum has already shifted to a future Taliban regime. It’s not If but When.

This is not America’s fault, nor longer its mission, but an accumulated outcome of this South Asian country’s military dependence on foreign forces to do the fighting while a rot of corruption marinated much of the Afghan government and police.

Nearly a decade following his retirement, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, once the celebrity-like green robed leader Washington placed its hopes on,  told The Associated Press that the U.S. and NATO troops being withdrawn from Afghanistan are leaving behind a disaster.

He stated, “The International community came here 20 years ago with this clear objective of fighting extremism and bringing stability…but extremism is at the highest point today.”

“So, they have failed” he said.  He conceded that the Afghans had many failures too but Karzai alleged his country was being left “in total disgrace and disaster.”

Karzai exhibited an ungrateful bitterness towards the Americans and many European allies who sent troops and billions in development aid to help his embattled country fight terrorism, ethnic violence and a pervasive narcotics culture.  To the more than 2,200 U.S. troops who died and 20,000 thousand more with loss of limbs, PTSD and lifelong injuries, and their families, this poses an absurd insult.

America has already sacrificed too much in blood and treasure to continue in an unending and largely thankless task.

The UN’s envoy Lyons stated unequivocally, “There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan, away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table.”

There’s no doubt the people of Afghanistan have been the biggest victims; to this day fighting kills large numbers of civilians, children have hideous injuries from bombs, and the perpetual conflict since the original Soviet invasion in 1979 has created an enduring psychological trauma.

Addressing the Security Council Ms. Lyons warned that there was barely time left “to prevent a worse-case scenario from materializing,” adding ominously that “increased conflict in Afghanistan means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far.”  She added, that such a conflict “creates a more permissive environment for terrorist groups to recruit, finance, plan and conduct operations with a global reach.”

The Biden Administration plans to end a war ironically by the fateful day on which it started, September 11th.  What could possibly go wrong?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]